Sport psychology and fitness experts offer encouragement over faltering 2024 fitness goals


While January is seen as the time to dig the activewear out of the drawer and set new fitness goals, it is common to experience an early bump in the road.


Leeds Trinity University sport psychology and fitness experts Dr Luke Barnes, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, and Adam Lunn, Teacher in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health Promotion, insist the opportunity to hit those 2024 fitness goals is still alive, even if January didn't go to plan.

Offering advice and expertise for February and the rest of the year, Dr Barnes and Adam Lunn agree that while the intentions are good, making such immediate and drastic lifestyle changes can often quickly lead to struggle, failure and reverting to old routines. However, taking smaller steps to make sport, exercise and general physical activity a part of everyday life can help people to gradually increase activity and work towards their aims. 

Dr Barnes said: “I understand that the start of a new year seems like a natural checkpoint for reflection. However, we all know that intentions do not always result in actual action, or at least sustained action, leading to disappointment. 

“To avoid this, I suggest two things. Firstly, identify a specific and meaningful reason to make change. If a person is not truly motivated to change and the goals set do not truly resonate with them, there is little chance of them adhering or working towards them. 

“Secondly, set personal, realistic and sustained behavioural targets, developing a clear process with smaller ‘stepping stones’ along the way. Most people have a long-term end goal they want to work towards, but I encourage individuals to move away from focussing on that and instead integrate sport, exercise and general physical activity into their everyday lives. This approach can help to make it feel like someone’s sense of self and less like a task, therefore increasing the chances of maintaining a level of activity. 

“Using intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation can also help to stay consistent. Intrinsic motivation, which I recommend prioritising, refers to doing an activity purely because you enjoy it. Extrinsic motivation relates to factors other than the activity itself, such as ‘push and pull’ prompts, which create accountability and a level of reward for exercising.” 

Sport and exercise play a central role in improving wellbeing, but for those who haven’t been active for a while, it can be difficult to know how to start on a journey of improving their fitness. Adam Lunn, who combines his role at Leeds Trinity with working as an online coach and personal trainer, has the following advice. 

Adam said: “In my opinion, the best way to get started is to identify a new habit that you can practice immediately. It could be something as simple as preparing your gym bag the night before, or simply leaving your trainers by the door. There’s no obligation at this stage to go to the gym or do any exercise, but at least you’ve started a new habit. 

“In terms of introducing exercise, active daily living is a great way to burn calories and get your body working in a way that you may not have considered. For example, this could be taking the stairs instead of the lift, or parking slightly further away from the entrance to your office. We all know what we should be doing to better our health, but at the end of the day we are humans, and we like comfort. However, the next time you’re presented with ‘easy or hard’ options, ask yourself ‘which is actually the one best for me?’  

“Next is to set your environment up for success. You ultimately get to decide what success looks like for you, so if that is achieving a 15-minute walk, managing to do so is, by your own definition, success. As Dr Barnes touched on, it’s important to break your fitness journey down into achievable chunks. Start small, celebrate the wins, assess what worked and adjust accordingly along the way.” 

One reason for giving up on new fitness plans is the lack of immediate results and progress. However, Adam suggests viewing exercise as a long-term change to improve health and fitness over time and accepting that results require hard work is one way of staying committed. 

He said: "Why is it we want a ‘get fit quick’ scheme? Why do we expect to be like the cover model of Men’s or Women’s Health magazine in 12 weeks? Incorporating fitness and health into our lives should be seen as a life-long change. An exercise programme or a diet should be something you can see yourself sticking to for the foreseeable future. 

“I understand it can sometimes feel as though exercise isn’t for you or a diet isn’t working, but trust me, there is always going to be an alternative option that will help you get to where you want to be. In those first few weeks, it’s about layering healthy habits and making small improvements. The process can be slow but stick with it and the results will follow.” 

For more information about Leeds Trinity’s Sport and Wellbeing courses, visit the University website.

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